On Kindness

by Mugdha Sinha

Kindness is an echo that comes back to you. Ceteris paribus!

The mountains that return our kindness have either disappeared or are gradually crumbling bulldozer by bulldozer under the weight of our rising aspirations. The conditions required for generation of an echo have been devoured by the cacophony of our overvaulting desires. Our materialistic evolution in this anthropocentric world with competing demands has unfortunately happened at the cost of co-existence with our environments and collaboration with our fellow beings. The greater the cognitive dissonance, the greater the chasm. More noise, less sound; fainter the echo.

Kindness is just one kind of collateral damage in this ever unfolding saga where our ecosystems are collapsing aided by our consumption led, production driven development. While the denouement of the mountains is observable, the deluge in the stream of our consciousness, where what it is to be human is less visible, though it is dissolving much more rapidly. At the bottom of this heap-of mountains, of oceans, of pyramids, of our priorities, lies a voice that is being muffled, dumbed down, discarded as an obstacle in the hundred-meter race to nowhere. Given our collective amnesia this will prove fatal to our remembering, from which all history is written as a debt to people and places.

And yet kindness is making a comeback!

Only this time not from the mountains as an echo but from the market as a sellable product- as books for children, carrying kindness in their title and story. While their intent is to re-awaken the sleeping beauty but in the short term it ends up leveraging a virtue, en cashing it for a price. Kindness reincarnates as the bottom line of balance sheets, a shape shifter evolving as charity.

Where there once used to be a mountain now stands a market.

The reason we need to echo kindness back through stories that grandparents will read to their children, some also from their own lived experiences, is because in the survival of kindness lies the survival of humankind. But not as some mythic super being that once was an ubermensch. Neither as an entitlement where we raise a million scaffold of words in oratory and praise, demanding kindness as generosity, with supply invariably falling short of demand, in the bazaar, where everything is up for sale.

From kindness being a value, it now has a price tag, exactly as Oscar Wilde had presciently predicted that, ’we know the price of everything and the value of nothing’. Erich Fromm has also cautioned us about the perennial dilemma of choice between having and being. Our actionable virtues (being kind) as a state of being are increasingly becoming synonymous with the state of possessing (having kindness). Our journey from inspirational to aspirational beings is becoming a telling commentary of our emotional and spiritual descent from a mindset of abundance to one of scarcity-the very basis of consumption, that keeps the wheels of capitalism alive and kicking. We have kindness that is becoming niggardly in praxis, much like having wealth but no liquidity, which is a template in the hardcore world of finance for liquidation of assets and declaration of bankruptcy.

What we do not put to good use, rusts, dissolves or dies. By this analogy, is our everyday disuse of kindness putting it on the ventilator to deep slumber? Has kindness turned old, old fashioned? Is it awaiting its death knell, like convicts their death sentence?

The transformation of Greek philosophy into cost-benefit economics, says a lot about our modern age of enlightenment. The concept of the global village enshrined in Vasudeva Kutumbakam, predates globalisation, but is nothing without its ethical and aesthetic core. However, this void has been usurped by the new age guru’s spreading sunshine with their sophisticated jugglery while simultaneously raking in money. The world is now a preacher’s podcast where everybody is selling kindness by the kilos in marketable paraphernalia of incense, camphor, singing bowl meditation sessions, spiritual spas and retreats. Kindness is now a tourist spot, complete with brand name, customised tags, tik tok videos, instagram reels and emoticons. Glam goes well with glib. We are assaulted by their cacophony and subjected to chaos. No wonder then, we are unable to make meaning or decipher sense from this amplification of noise.

The mountain that became a mall, is now a Tower of Babel.

Our vocabulary too is changing accordingly from one of praxis to one of use. This transformation of our lexicon from one of consumption to one of exploitation is how those who are kind are now finding themselves at the receiving end of the stick, where their kindness is being taken for granted. This often comes with dire consequences grave enough to focus WHO’s attention to diseases of the mind, arising from all kinds of emotional and mental abuse. Kind from being central to a caregiver’s lingo is used as an obfuscated reference to an unutterable malady, one that cannot be spoken off-that kind of thing. A grave has been dug, epitaph ready: she died due to the kindness of her heart. It will mimic an autopsy where death is reported to have occurred as a result of a cardiac attack, mild or massive, being immaterial. But with every death of the kindred soul, kindness is close to extinction. We are not parenting it organically and in the market it has no means to survive, leave alone blossom and flourish. The story of how the ripple burst and became a rage, is well deserving of a memoir.
Kindness is dying. And we are allowing it to die.

Paradoxically, that one rare thing of limited edition and vintage, expeditiously becoming extinct, is not considered worthy enough of emulation, is truly shocking. That we are one of a kind, only, not in deeds, is the new template of the market, where kindness is at best an exception.

The Corporates, have found a way to en cash its many benefits as a soft skill for hospitals and hospitality industries, where kindness can be controlled like in laboratory settings, restricted to politeness in speech and gestures, alone. Markets and Media are waging a war for kindness in their advertising campaigns. A battle is being fought to kill it with kindness, with powerpoint presentations, tropes and stereotypes. Despite the amplification, attention deficit prevails.

Kindness is a buzzword, without as much as a whisper.

Keep the change is how we cherry pick our flowers of gratitude from the bouquet of empathy. And we breadcrumb and haggle with those for whom this change may be the only means of survival. Brene Brown in her book ‘Atlas of the Heart’ makes a case for how compassion comes from a place of having known struggle hence our offerings of kindness should flow between equals, not as osmosis from pedestal to pedestrian, in top-down perspective.

Poetry is the other intimate form of kindness that language can offer to a weary soul, tired heart. And as the American poet Naomi Shihab Nye say’s in her poem, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside/You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” Canadian poet Robert W Seine makes Sylvia Path’s Lady Dame of Kindness ecocentric and inclusive for ‘bird, beast or man’. Emily Dickinson however says it best, “If I can stop one heart from breaking/I shall not live in vain.”

Poetry is like prayer, where every iteration has the power of an algorithm to conjure magic; manifest miracles. The choice of what we pray for, is ours entirely. We can choose kindness this time, every time.

While the Bible wants us to believe in ‘kind shall inherit the earth’, Charles Darwin by scientifically explaining that the vulnerability of species that allows the species to evolve to a better version of themselves, allows for the survival of the kindest. This daring that comes from outgrowing comfort zones and overcoming circumstances, comes from a place of deep vulnerability. We can only pray that the death of kindness is only an evolutionary stage in its resurrection to its more action oriented, more informed version of its kind. There is another kind of evolution that happens as Rumi says, when the light enters the heart cracked open. Kindness has the power to grow from a place of darkness, to sublimate and illuminate the giver and the receiver. The Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a policy advocate for the terminally ill patients’ right to live with dignity, has alluded to not showing kindness as one of the biggest regrets of people dying or grieving. Aldous Huxley, the renowned science fiction writer echoes the same sentiment, “It is a little embarrassing that, after forty-five years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kind to each other”.

Nature is an open source of generosity. The entire ecosphere opens its heart and hearth for mankind, with no expectations of reciprocity, teaching us a valuable lesson for sustainable cohabitation, where man is a part of its environment, not at its centre. At the centre, always kindness. If the Banyan tree can hold space for Buddha’s enlightenment, why can’t we be like the Banyan tree, holding space for each other? Dogs as our leitmotifs for loyalty and kindness, have much to teach us, the underdogs.

We are like an acorn that contains the possibility of an oak tree. We are a gift that immortalises itself in exchange. No wonder, human libraries are reviving the lost art of storytelling where we offer our lived experience as a way of deepening our bonds with people, in a world gobbling up our commons, where our interactions were freely available. Now everything is mechanical, with paid consultations with therapists replacing our time with neighbours and friends. We need to revive the gift economy of exchange, to slowly embrace a circle of human kindness.

In his book ‘The Power of Kindness’, Pierre Ferruci writes that kindness is not a virtue but a path to our own happiness with unexpected benefits leading to a compassionate life that flows from it. Mountains, not walls need to be re-erected so that kindness like sparrows can return, to warm the cockles of our heart.

In exactly, the quiet way a psychologist friend of mine acted when she got up to shut the cabin door where a bunch of nurses were boisterously laughing, watching a video unmindful of a patient sobbing from a recent loss of her still born child. This kind of kind is what is required, to inform our approach to life to make it both fair and just.

Come let us resurrect the mountains by becoming them, to echo kindness back. No ceteris paribus!

Mugdha Sinha Mugdha Sinha, is a career civil servant from the Indian Administrative Service currently posted as Joint Secretary, in the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. An avid bibliophile who regularly curates book author conversations as the elected Literary Secretary of the IAS Association. She is a published poet who alternates between writing sarkari note sheets, essays and articles. As an empath she is quietly waging a war with words for provoking a change in status quo. An artist who paints bottles, doodles meditative mandalas and loves the celestial night sky star-gazing.

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